PM fails to win over senior Tory rebels angered by Brexit bill

12 September 2020, 19:37

Boris Johnson is struggling to win over some Tory MPs who oppose his Brexit bill
Boris Johnson is struggling to win over some Tory MPs who oppose his Brexit bill. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Senior Conservatives are still expressing anger at Boris Johnson’s controversial Brexit legislation, despite attempts from the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove to win them over.

Mr Johnson is looking to win support for his bill, which overrides parts of the divorce deal he signed with the European Union in December.

However, some senior Tories have argued the legislation breaches international law - something the government has conceded - and hence threatens Britain's reputation in the world.

Despite the Prime Minister holding a conference call with his MPs and Mr Gove warning the bill is needed to protect the ”integrity of the UK”, rebels continue to voice their opposition to the move.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Commons defence committee, said on Saturday that "unamended I cannot support this Bill".

"Already this Bill is damaging brand UK, diminishing our role-model status as defender of global standards. As we go to the wire, let's see more British statecraft - less Nixonian Madman Theory," he tweeted.

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Meanwhile, Commons justice committee chairman Sir Bob Neill, who has tabled an amendment which he said would impose a "parliamentary lock" on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still believes it contains "objectionable" elements.

"I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward," Sir Bob told Channel 4 News.

Mr Johnson “set out his case but it hasn't changed anything that I think. I'm confident that our amendment is still getting support," he said.

Sir Roger Gale also remains a strong critic, telling reporters: "If anybody is responsible, if it happens, for bringing the union down, it will be [chief aide Dominic] Cummings and Mr Johnson."

In an article for The Telegraph, the Prime Minister said Brussels was threatening to use an "extreme interpretation" of the Northern Ireland Protocol to impose "a full-scale trade border down the Irish Sea".

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But both Ireland and the EU have warned that Mr Johnson's plans pose a serious risk to the peace process rather than protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

With a majority of 80 in the House of Commons, Mr Gove says he remains confident Tory MPs will support the bill.

Speaking on LBC, Tory MP Bob Blackman, Executive Secretary of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, said he is supporting the bill and believes “the government is doing exactly the right thing”.

“What they are doing is seeking to obtain that trade deal, but then planning for what happens if we don’t get the trade deal. They would be irresponsible, thoroughly irresponsible as a government, if they did not plan for what happens if we don’t have a trade deal. “

However, the move could make that trade deal harder to reach. Leaders in the European Parliament said they would "under no circumstances ratify" any deal if "UK authorities breach or threaten to breach" the Withdrawal Agreement.